Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Curb Your Enthusiasm? Not in my condolence!

I was recently asked to take an exclamation point off of an obituary sentence. 

The family had written and emailed me their dad's obituary to be used on the funeral home website. I routinely apply certain formatting to ensure that arrangement details are easily understood. I also tweak grammar, spelling, sentence structure and redundancies because 99% of the time, families ask me to save them embarrassment by polishing their under-stress composition.

"Taxis to hell - and back," Library of Congress
Here was a profile of a remarkable man! Orphaned, eager to enlist for wartime duty, he fibbed on some facts and, served courageously in Normandy, before the age of 18. He sustained injuries and was awarded a Purple Heart.
It was a pulse-quickening read--the kind that becomes a great movie--volleys of exclamation marks were firing in my brain. I added one exclamation mark to the story and posted the obituary to the website.

A short time later, the phone call came:  "Please remove that exclamation mark."

I confessed my enthusiasm, but complied, and it took awhile to shake off the cold water that was thrown on my zealous respect for this man.


I firmly believe that our memories are richest when they have !!!! -- that is the great blessing of a life well lived.

Around the time of that encounter, I discovered a true champion of obituaries. Susan Soper, a career journalist, states:

"You are unique, and so is your story. You don't have to be rich and famous to have tales to tell."

Susan transformed her passion for life stories into a guide for everyone: the ObitKit.  Writing a memoir is daunting work but this easy to use book interviews your loved one. It is intended to be used by a family before death shuts the door on asking questions! I encourage readers to visit Susan's site.

Obituaries and condolence notes are vitally connected!

Whenever possible, track down and read the obituary of the deceased, before writing your note. When you make a habit of this, you will become a connoisseur of those which are beautifully written, but more importantly, you will gain numerous facts for written reflection.

I challenge you to read five newspaper death notices and or obituaries...and write a sentence or two for each one. Do this exercise with lean (little information) and lush obituaries. Your remarks can be:

  • sorrowful
  • appreciative
  • admiring
  • remembering
  • connecting generations
Yes, it is challenging to make observations from a lean death notice, but it can be done. You may need to postpone your note until you have had an insightful conversation, viewed photos, attended a memorial gathering or service. I address these methods in my post, Don't Rush Your Condolence.

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1 comment:

Susan Soper said...

Lots of good pointers in here, Deborah. Those notes mean so much but many people don't realize it until they've lost someone. I will never forget every note I received when my mother died at 45 in 1968. And when my dad died in 1996, some of the best notes I got included a story or anecdote about him -- even from strangers to me -- that told me something I hadn't known. I laughed and cried!
OK, so now I'm putting on my editor's hat to address your exclamation points. I agree that there are sentiments, events and actions that practically require that exclamation but I caution against overuse which MIGHT appear school-girlish and then they lose their punch. And when an exclamation point is needed, one will usually do the trick! :)